July 30th, 2012, 09:06 PM
They aren't really flawed tools. They're pretty simple organizational ones. It's jut the other, cultural social systems people try to attach to them that cause the confusion. The important thing to remember is that category markets are shelf and advertising displays, not assessments or literary movements. A category market (display) is done when sales figures show that there are a lot of people buying a lot of books with a sort of general content and are willing to read new authors in that content. (And not every country's market does them.) This is why we didn't have a fantasy category market until the late 1960's. Plenty of fantasy fiction was being published both in general fiction and under the label of science fiction, but eventually it made sense for the category SF market to add an extra display just for fantasy. A mystery is the only thing required to be sold in the mystery category market. A romance in romance. SF elements in SF and fantastical elements in fantasy. Style, tone, literary artistry, how elements are used -- totally irrelevant to whether a work can go in a category market display. In general fiction is everything -- every type of fiction, every type of style, paperback potboilers, literary award winners, porn. So any book can be sold in general fiction. And any book that has the general display content in it, no matter how slight, can be sold in a category market.
Just like your own shelves can be rearranged, the mix of category markets and general fiction are flexible. An author published by a publisher supplying the category market can be marketed extensively through general fiction venues too and vice versa. An author like R. Scott Baker who is published by Outlook, a general fiction press, is not banned from the category shelves. An author can switch from a general fiction publisher to a category one or the other way. A large publisher may move a book from general fiction to category or back the other way because that's where the big booksellers said they had room to shelve and sell the book. Which is why attaching literary worth to book covers, store placement, binding format or type of imprint -- which unfortunately many people including those who might be considered literary experts do -- is meaningless. People do it less now than they used to, but the talk of genre (category) versus mainstream (potboilers and porn) is essentially making that mistake.
That's why the category tags on the e-vendors are a jumble because they don't have bookstore shelf displays. Everything is general fiction and they don't really care. But the category displays are still useful in a catalog marketing way, but it's a catalog that can even more easily cross reference. So even though Hunger Games is not a fantasy novel, it can be displayed at them, since many fantasy readers will read a post-apoc SF novel. Alternate history SF and alternate history fantasy, as you found Laer, are the same group because the shelf display there is alternate history. For Amazon, they actually want you to have as many category tags as possible -- catalog display appearances.
Media, reviews, fan get togethers, etc. can build up around a type of fiction and this type of fiction may or may not have a category market. This community has no strictures either -- it is interested in a wide range of books that simply have one common element to them (which may be further divided into sub-displays on common content elements (such as historical fantasy.) Most of the other category markets have much less dedicated media and reader interaction than they used to -- they are pretty much just extensions of general fiction when it comes to most marketing venues, although it varies and recent developments in t.v. and fan interaction on the Net has increased it sometimes, such as for mysteries. (YA fiction, which has wildly expanded, now has more, mostly through the Net.) But SF was different because the marketing didn't come from the books -- it came from the magazines and comics. A convention system sprang up from magazines, comics -- and film and t.v. as well, that included books and was eventually transferred to books. That has made SF -- and FH with it -- extraordinarily resilient and interactive in terms of marketing to potential readers. And this is what causes a good chunk of the confusion.
But if you are going out into the fiction market and especially if you are entering the largely non-categorized field of self-pub e-books, you have to understand that all fiction is one market (with the category extra shelves within it.) But there are many marketing venues you can utilize within the fiction market. There is no difference between a SFFH convention and a general fiction book festival. They're just two marketing venues where you can display. There is no difference between a banner ad at a SFF fan site and a banner ad at a general fiction site like Media Bistro (which covers SFF extensively too.) If you're published by a small press, it means that you have fewer resources to access marketing venues and potential distribution than a large press, not that yours is a radically different sort of publication. The usefulness of the category market is that it is concentrated marketing at receptive readers who have learned to look for the displays. So you might, especially if resources are slim, concentrate your marketing effort through those venues if you're doing SFFH. Or you may do many more venues. People self-pubbing e-books on Amazon often just do marketing on Amazon.
Tangentially related to this discussion and some others we've had recently is this article in The Guardian. I don't agree with the author that e-books are like a tech bubble and will burst, because of what I know of books and why they are bought, but the material on social media marketing is perhaps worth considering: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012...rite?fb=optOut
August 1st, 2012, 11:08 AM
I'm aware that this is harking back to the side issue but...
M. John Harrison is indeed 'tarred' with the genre brush in some eyes but it's not quite that straightforward. He won the extremely highly regarded Boardman Tasker Award for Climbing Literature (his Climbers is the only novel ever to have won the award). He has also been a regular reviewer for the TLS and the Guardian.
But anyway, as I say, this is a digression.
August 1st, 2012, 11:45 AM
Here's a related article: Penelope Trunk tried a big-name publisher, got fed up, and self-published.
August 1st, 2012, 01:48 PM
Yes, exactly, that was my point.
Originally Posted by SimonGuy
August 3rd, 2012, 05:18 AM
My point being though, that 'literary circles' are no more cohesive in their response to writers than any other circle. The literary world is not unamimous in labelling Harrison as a writer of bestselling genre rubbish.
And as for 'bestselling' - I wish... :-)
August 3rd, 2012, 01:19 PM
Yes, exactly, that was also my point. It's not an either/or objective situation. I think you need to go back and look at what Ian was arguing to which people were responding.
Originally Posted by SimonGuy
Trunk's article, GH, is pretty typically the response of authors who are coming from the business and media worlds, where there is lots of money, and who don't understand how it works with booksellers, including electronic vendors, into working with a book publisher, where there is minimal money and a particular sort of business relationship. I.e. she assumes her publisher will act as a high powered business PR firm, as if she had employed them, rather than simply partnered with them for a production license, and that she should be able to demand what money the publisher further invests in publicizing her particular book and how. She assumes they will be able to publicize and sell widely in non-book vendor venues tailored specifically to her book, and that they can afford to do this and believe that her book is worth in potential sales spending the money on such efforts and the cost of employing personnel who can specifically reach those venues effectively. She assumes that since the publisher doesn't plan to spend money in certain ways and tells her she can make various efforts if she wants to that it doesn't understand those ways. In her book contract that she signed, it specifically tells her that she's not going to get to order the publisher around on any publicity efforts nor can make them spend any further money on her book for publicity just because she granted them the production license. But authors tend to not pay attention and to refuse to understand, since books are a high profile product, that books are very unimportant in the wider reference/entertainment complex and that many publicity avenues simply do not provide decent return for the cost for book publishers, or at least not for all their titles. Certainly in non-fiction, which is a different market from fiction, authors are the central marketers because their platform is more than their book, but the publisher is only involved in the book. Publishers do very specific types of publicity; the author does the rest. This has always been the case.
In Ms. Trunk's case, where the bulk of her non-fiction books are likely sold through non-book vendor venues and a major part of her income off a non-fiction book is likely to be paid speeches and workshops related to the book and at which she can sell or publicize the book -- something the publisher does not have the resources to do -- then self-publishing can certainly make a great deal of sense since she can cover her costs through other sources of revenue.
Whether you partner publish, self-publish, license your story to a magazine, etc. you the author are always the publisher. Your work is your business, your company. When you partner with a publisher, you give them the license as a business agreement and in return, they invest in you by covering specified costs of your business in putting out your product, chiefly in production, marketing to vendors and labor costs. Depending on the publisher, the publisher may further invest in your product by giving you a guaranteed advance which provides your business with capital. You can spend that capital in many ways for your business -- to finance your labor costs producing (writing) another product, to finance your labor costs promoting the product and the travel and other costs to effect that promotion, to pay your overhead costs of your business such as your electric bill, and so on. The publisher does not get to tell you how you use your capital. You do not get to tell the publisher that they have to invest more money in your business. A publisher may, if they evaluate it as cost effective, invest in further, larger promotional efforts such as a book tour where they cover your business' costs of your labor, and other expenses of you touring in cities, as well as paying for other labor such as literary escorts. But they have to believe your product is worth the cost of the additional investment. If they don't, you, the owner of the business, will have to decide what you can afford and cover the costs of you doing business in that way, including whether you can afford the cost of publicity labor to do publicity for you from a PR firm. A publisher "coordinates" publicity efforts with the author to make sure that they don't duplicate efforts with the author and cost themselves unnecessary money and that the author is not conflicting with them and messing up their license rights. The publisher may also, if they think the author's business decision sound on publicity, that a publicity effort might be effective, may offer the author further investment capital that the author can use to cover his or her business costs of doing that promotion. And when the author files his or her taxes, whether self-publishing or partner publishing, the author files business tax forms and deducts business expenses from business gross profits for net income of the business. Yelling that publishers are not proper PR firms is ignoring your business contract and the fact that you didn't hire the publisher.
So maybe that's how we need to start talking about it. Instead of the endless e-books versus partner publishing debate, which is not put in terms of forms of business operation but as some sort of emotional daddy loves me, daddy hates me thing, maybe we need to focus down on authors as businesses who need to make business decisions about investment capital, labor, production and marketing costs, out-licensing, and net profits instead of simply sales in the business of publishing. These are not always easy decisions and may at times require the cost of professional financial advice, but they aren't rocket science. You are choosing how you will operate your business, get revenue and cover costs, not who will take care of you.
Last edited by KatG; August 3rd, 2012 at 03:34 PM.